Blue Ball Tavern

I spent the first seven years of my life in Perry County, Pennsylvania, across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg.

My parents moved to Perry County from Western PA the year that my dad graduated from college and my parents got married. Dad found a job teaching at Newport High School.

Dad found that the pay teaching at a rural public school wasn’t fantastic. So, he also took part-time jobs: coaching football, and law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well as the Department of Natural Resources (DCNR).

(Dad also freelanced as a chimney sweep. This was my family’s 1970’s version of the gig economy.)

Dad worked part-time in law enforcement with the DCNR for decades while he taught high school. He worked at several PA State Parks in several counties. (After my family left Perry County, dad graduated from the Municipal Police Officer’s Training Academy at WCCC.)

When we lived in Perry County, Dad worked at Little Buffalo State Park.

Little Buffalo State Park includes the site of the Blue Ball Tavern, established in 1811.

I don’t know any cool stories about the Blue Ball Tavern. However, this place attracted canal and furnace workmen in the mid 1800’s. I’m sure that these stories exist for me to discover.

The Blue Ball Tavern’s property owners later used the tavern’s foundation to build the farmhouse pictured at the top of this blog post. At one point, they ran a smaller tavern out of a room in this farmhouse.

The Perry County Historical Society now runs this building as the Blue Ball Tavern Museum.

I’m sure that the name attracts interest in the museum.

The Blue Ball Tavern Museum sits across State Park Road from Little Buffalo State Park Office & Visitor Center.

Little Buffalo also features these awesome things:

1.) Shoaff’s Mill, a Nineteenth-Century Gristmill


2.) Clay’s Bridge, a Covered Bridge Built in 1890

My husband Jonathan and I stopped at Little Buffalo on February 12, 2012 (Valentine’s Day) on our way back from Hershey and Harrisburg.

We’re due for another visit.

(As a side note, Simon Girty was also from present-day Perry County, PA. )

Stay tuned next week for some Groundhog Day nostalgia over Punxsutawney.

Public Shaming

Over this past weekend, a debate broke out on social media about using social media to publicly shame other people.

I once attended a career development group in which we discussed online public shaming. At that time, I pulled together the following podcast / reading list about the subject:

1.) In 2014, my employer’s women’s group hosted a web cast conducted by Sam Richter that explored online reputation management. Richter’s presentation briefly mentioned Justine Sacco, a public relations professional who sent an inappropriate tweet.

This linked article by Jon Ronson from the New York Times goes into much more detail about the entire Justine Sacco incident. (See How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life by Jon Ronson, New York Times, February 12, 2015.)

2.) The above linked article also referenced Lindsey Stone. Ms. Stone lost her job and her reputation over a photo posted online in which she made an inappropriate gesture while standing in front of a sign at Arlington National Cemetery.

I listen to a podcast series about the internet titled Reply All from Gimlet Media.  Episode #18 of the series, titled Silence and Respect, is about Lindsey Stone’s experience with an online reputation management company after this incident.

3.) Finally, the podcast mentioned the following book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Note: I didn’t actually read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Do you ever worry about being publicly shamed? Why?

Vanishing Girls

I believed our local forecasts for a winter storm this weekend.

So, I typed “Pennsylvania fiction” into a search engine and sifted through the results until I found Vanishing Girls (Detective Josie Quinn, Book 1) by Lisa Regan.

This police procedural crime thriller, the first in its series, was published in January 2018. Per Amazon, the series now has five books.

Vanishing Girls caught my attention because the author grew up in Central PA. (She now lives in Philadelphia.) This crime series takes place in rural-ish Central PA in the fictional community of Denton. The story references a two hour drive to Philadelphia and a four hour drive to the PA State Police’s lab in Greensburg.

I myself lived in rural Central PA – across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg – from birth to age seven. I have a lot of good memories from our years there.

So, yeah, I bought a serious crime novel and read it due to nostalgia for my childhood home.

This story contains the following: homicide, sexual assault, sex trafficking, sexual abuse of minors, violence against law enforcement, descriptions of consensual sex, explicit language, etc. So be mindful of this before you decide to read Vanishing Girls yourself. (This is NOT a good book for some of my family members to read.)

At the beginning of Book 1, the protagonist Josie Quinn serves as a detective on Denton’s police force. Her chief puts her on a paid suspension due to an excessive force allegation filed against her. Her estranged husband, Ray, serves on the Denton police force with her. She tries to convince Ray to sign the divorce papers so that she can marry her new fiance, Luke, a PA State Police trooper.

Then a local high school girl disappears.

Even though Josie is suspended from the force, she finds herself in the middle of the action.

This story kept me engaged enough that I finished it in one “snow-bound” holiday weekend. The author introduced plenty of red herrings. In my opinion, it followed all of the rules of a good crime novel.

Here’s something that amused me: one of the characters is a reporter for “WYEP,” the local television station in this fictional world. Now, in real life, WYEP 91.3 FM is Pittsburgh’s non-commercial radio station. So, I wonder if the book’s reference to “WYEP” is actually an Easter egg / inside joke.

What books did you read this winter? Post in the comments.

Also, stay tuned to this blog. Groundhog Day 2019 takes place in less than two weeks. I am going to post a link to my sister’s blog post about our family stories of Punxsutawney, PA.

They “Bought” a Dead Body: My Visit to Jim Thorpe, PA

Pennsylvania has a borough named Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe is the county seat of Carbon County.

Here’s a story about Jim Thorpe, PA’s name.

In the 1800’s, white settlers, ah, settled in a gorge in the Lehigh Valley. They named the town “Mauch Chunk.” This came from the Lenni Lenape people’s name for the nearby mountain. I find this ironic, and you will read why in a few paragraphs.

The Lenni Lenape were American Indians.

(I grew up using the term “Native American.” However, the Smithsonian now uses the term “American Indian” in referring to the indigenous peoples of the United States. For this blog post I will use “American Indian.”)

Many white settlers earned their livings from the coal mined above Mauch Chunk. In the 1820’s, they built the Switchback Gravity Railroad from these coal mines. 

(Guess why Carbon County is named Carbon County!)

The mine owners employed large numbers of Irish immigrants. The mine owners exploited and oppressed these miners.

The Irish miners formed an illegal labor union. Some also joined a secret society, the Molly McGuires (the Mollies). The mine owners hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to infiltrate and prosecute the Mollies. Soon, Carbon County hung (hanged?) several alleged members of the Mollies for murder, at the county jail in Mauch Chunk in 1877. Here’s my blog post about this.

A decade later, in 1887, an American Indian named Wa-Tho-Huk (Bright Path) was born in Oklahoma. He belonged to the Sac and Fox tribe.

Wa-Tho Huk was of mixed-race ancestry. Both of his parents were Roman Catholic. His parents had him baptized in the Catholic Church as Jacobus (Jim) Thorpe.

During this time in history, the United States Federal Government set up boarding schools to assimilate American Indians into “white American” culture.

Our government had established the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to educate American Indian children. Carlisle is in the central part of our state, near Harrisburg. It is about a hundred miles away from the borough that used to be known as Mauch Chunk.

As a teenager, Wa-Tho-Huk / Jim Thorpe travelled to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle school.

Now, one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab, produced a beautiful episode about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. I posted the link to this episode’s website here. You can also download it from the platform of your choice. The episode is titled “American Football,” dated January 29, 2015. Radiolab posted photos from the Carlisle school here. If you want to learn about the Carlisle school and its athletic successes, you should listen to this episode.

I can’t rival the information presented by Radiolab. Let me just paraphrase that athletics – especially football – played a huge part in the Carlisle school’s education and culture.

Jim Thorpe excelled in sports at the Carlisle school.

Then, he won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the Olympics in Sweden in 1912. His special track shoes “disappeared” before the competitions. Jim Thorpe had to wear shoes that he found in a garbage bin when he won his gold medals.

Then he played professional baseball AND professional football.

Jim Thorpe the man died impoverished in 1953. Thorpe’s widow, Patricia, was frustrated by efforts to convince Thorpe’s birth state of Oklahoma to provide a grave / memorial for Thorpe. She claimed that Thorpe’s estate didn’t provide enough funds to bury Thorpe without outside help.

At this time, Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania existed separately from a neighboring borough named East Mauch Chunk. Both boroughs wanted to “attract new businesses,” according to Wikipedia.

Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk cut a deal with Thorpe’s widow. The two boroughs merged and renamed themselves as “Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.” The new borough of Jim Thorpe built a memorial / grave to Jim Thorpe the man.

The borough also paid Mrs. Thorpe.

In return, Mrs. Thorpe agreed to have Jim Thorpe the man buried in Jim Thorpe the borough.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Thorpe agreed to this without the consent of Jim Thorpe’s remaining family, including children from a prior marriage.

In fact, Mrs. Thorpe agreed to have Jim Thorpe’s body transported from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania while Thorpe’s family was in the process of conducting traditional tribal rituals for him.

So, Jim Thorpe’s body was removed from Oklahoma during his own funeral!

Jim Thorpe’s sons later filed a federal lawsuit to have the body returned to Oklahoma. They argued that Jim Thorpe the borough qualified as a museum under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Jim Thorpe’s body remains in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

Note that Jim Thorpe the man never actually visited Jim Thorpe the borough (Mauch Chunk) during his lifetime. He did attend the Carlisle school, but from what I can tell, this was Jim Thorpe the man’s only connection to Pennsylvania.

My sisters and I grew up telling each other the ghost story that is connected with the Irish coal miners that were hung at the Carbon County jail in Mauch Chunk / Jim Thorpe.

Then we learned about Jim Thorpe the man.

My sister K. moved to the Lehigh Valley a few years ago. My sister E.R. and I visited her. We took a road trip to Jim Thorpe the borough since we had heard so much about it.

So here’s what we saw:

1.) The Jim Thorpe Memorial

That’s right, we visited Jim Thorpe the man’s grave.

This memorial sits in a wooded area on the edge of town. It’s like a little public park.

The original red marble marker bearing his name has a quote from Sweden’s King Gustav V. This memorial sits on soil taken from Oklahoma. I added a photo of this marker at the very top of this blog post.

The memorial now includes several statues and a sculpture. Through the years, the borough added several smaller markers to educate the public about Thorpe’s life in Oklahoma and at the school in Carlisle.

The memorial has a free parking lot that it doesn’t have to share with any other attractions.

There is no admission fee to visit the Jim Thorpe Memorial.

In my opinion, it’s really easy for families to stop here and reflect on the life of Jim Thorpe.

2.) The old Carbon County Jail, now the Old Jail Museum

Here’s a photo that my sister K. took of the gallows used at the Carbon County Jail in the 1800’s. This is the jail where the alleged Molly McGuires were imprisoned until their hangings just outside of the jail walls.

You can use this link to see my prior blog post about this event.

The Old Jail Museum’s physical building witnessed a haunted, loaded history.  As such, it now carries several ghost stories. The museum features these stories on its tours and also on its website.

One word about the tour: visitors are required to climb up and down several staircases. This is NOT a comfortable tour for people with mobility issues.

Also, we had to park several blocks away from the jail museum on the June Saturday of our visit. Keep this in mind if you plan your own visit.

3.) The Dimmick Memorial Library

I mention this because my sister K. loves this library. (K. is a librarian, so she likes to survey other people’s libraries.)

Here’s a photo of my sisters K. and E.R. posing on the library’s second floor.

This library is within walking distance of the Old Jail Museum. Also, it sits on a street full of historic buildings that appeal to tourists. If you are sight-seeing and you need to find a public restroom during the library’s operating hours, then you are in luck.

4.) Streets of historic buildings that appeal to tourists.

I was only in Jim Thorpe for several hours on this one day. We spent most of our trip at the Old Jail Museum. Then we walked around for a little bit more and ate ice cream. I was exhausted.

So I didn’t really explore the histories of the borough’s other buildings. After my next visit to Jim Thorpe, I will blog more of its stories.

Here are my sisters again:

Here is my sister K.’s blog post about her multiple trips to Jim Thorpe.

What towns do you like to visit?

Uncivil

This blog post is about the Civil War-themed podcast Uncivil from Gimlet Media.

I will also mention a specific episode of Uncivil that describes how George and Martha Washington skirted around a Pennsylvania slavery law.

I discovered podcasts in late 2014 when my sisters convinced me to listen to Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig. This American Life released Serial in fall 2014.

Well, it just so happens that a former producer for This American Life, Alex Blumberg, co-founded his own podcast company in August 2014. This podcast company came to be known as Gimlet Media.

From what I understand, Blumberg didn’t work on Serial and Gimlet Media and its podcasts are actually competitors to This American Life. However, after I ran out of Serial podcast episodes, my sisters introduced me to the podcasts produced by Gimlet Media.

Also from what I understand, Gimlet Media just happened to be fortunate enough to roll out its own first podcasts just as the public got excited over listening to Serial.

So ever since early 2015, I spent hours listening to podcasts from Gimlet Media.

On more than one occasion, I became deeply attached to one particular Gimlet podcast or another. Then, without any prior warning, the podcast would just cease to release new episodes. I wouldn’t see any notes on social media or on the platform where I get podcasts. Months would go by. Then, Gimlet would either announce that they cancelled the podcast, or else they would finally admit that the season ended and that I should stay alert for a new season soon. In one highly-publicized example, I waited for over a year to find out that the podcast in question (Mystery Show) was cancelled and that the host (Starlee Kine) had been terminated months earlier.

I found several other podcast companies after I discovered Gimlet. In my opinion, these other companies do better jobs of informing listeners as to when a season or podcast series will end. I’ve even found “mom-and-pop” podcasts who do a better job of telling listeners that they are ending their shows than Gimlet does.

I also find it odd that some Gimlet podcasts have their own Facebook pages that give listeners information about new podcast episodes, while other Gimlet podcasts just post their news on the main Gimlet Facebook page.

Here’s why I mention all of this: In October 2017, Gimlet introduced Uncivil. Uncivil is (was?) hosted by Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika. (Hite was a contributing editor to This American Life.)

Uncivil is (was?) much, much different than the PBS Ken Burns documentary that I watched in junior high school. Each episode thus far discussed stories and events that aren’t part of the common Civil War narrative. For instance, one episode was about female soldiers who passed themselves off as men. Many of the episodes featured stories and events involving African-Americans.

Between October and December 2017, Gimlet released ten episodes of Uncivil. And then . . . crickets. Did Uncivil’s Season One end? Would Uncivil return with a Season Two? Uncivil actually does have its own Facebook page, and indeed people posted these questions on Facebook.

I never read any responses to these questions.

Then in early January 2019 – THIS MONTH – I browsed iTunes for podcast suggestions. I learned that on ONE day – November 9, 2018 – Uncivil actually did release TWO brand-new episodes.

(Note: I previously subscribed to Uncivil. However, I had storage issues on my old smartphone. Therefore, when I needed to free up more storage, I unsubscribed from Uncivil. This was several months after December 2017, so I had no reason to hope that new episodes were forthcoming. I concede that I may have learned about the two newest Uncivil episodes sooner if I hadn’t unsubscribed.)

I find the following weird: Today, neither the Facebook page for Uncivil nor the Facebook page for Gimlet promotes these 2 new episodes. I thought that I initially saw on Facebook that these are the “final two episodes” of Season One, but now I don’t see this. The podcast app on my phone lists these two newest episodes as “unknown season.”

So, I have no idea if Uncivil is coming back for a Season Two. I have no idea why two brand-new Uncivil episodes were both released on the same random day in November after eleven months of silence.

I suspect that the answer had to do with money. But why the sketchy communication, Gimlet?

Anyway, one of the two new episodes that were released in November was titled “The Fugitive.” It focused on a young enslaved woman who was owned by George and Martha Washington. The Washingtons were President and First Lady of the United States. They lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At that time, by law enslaved people living in Philadelphia were granted their freedom after six months. The Washingtons apparently rotated their enslaved servants between Philadelphia and their Mount Vernon plantation so that none of their slaves lived in Philadelphia for six months straight. Therefore, none of these slaves gained their freedom. The young woman featured in this episode ran away from the Washingtons and she spent the rest of her life hiding from them and their heirs.

Here is the website link to all of the Uncivil episodes.

What podcasts do you enjoy?

Digital Humanities

Check Out This House Where Juliette Gordon Low Died

On the home front, my six-year-old niece H. is a Daisy Girl Scout. The Girl Scouts are selling cookies right now.

Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA, died on January 17, 1927 at the age of 66.

(She died of cancer. I mention this because I have several friends who were deeply affected by cancer and who later used fundraisers involving Girl Scout cookie donations for some worthy causes. Hats off to them!)

Juliette Gordon Low died at the Andrew Low House in Savannah, Georgia. I linked the house to this blog because the house fascinates me.

To be clear, I am NOT blogging today about the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace which was a house owned by the Gordon family. I am blogging today about the house once owned by the Low family, which now operates as the Andrew Low House. Juliette Gordon Low married into the Low family and she later came to own the Andrew Low House as a result of (the end of) her marriage.

In order to understand this house, you need to click on the link partway down the left side of the screen that says “Who was Andrew Low?”

You really need to read this website to get the full, rich story. However, to paraphrase this website:

Andrew Low I and Andrew Low II were uncle and nephew. They were both British merchants who earned fortunes in Savannah’s antebellum cotton trade. Andrew Low I retired to England and died a few years later, so he is not a part of the rest of the story here.

Andrew Low II became one of the richest men in Savannah before the Civil War.

Andrew Low II built this house that is now the “Andrew Low House” for the family that he started with his first wife. Unfortunately, his first wife and his first son died before the house was completed. He moved into the house with two young daughters.

Low II remarried to Mary Cowper Stiles and fathered several more daughters as well as his only surviving son William Mackay Low. Then the Civil War started.

Low and his wife Mary travelled to Canada and then sailed to England in a secret plan to slip Confederate arms and supplies through the United State’s naval blockade of the South. Agents representing the United States arrested Low in Maryland upon his return from England. They released Mary Low. She had to travel back to Georgia by herself. She was pregnant. The United States released Andrew Low a few months later. The United States allowed Low to return to Savannah. Low was still a British subject. Also, he was still wealthy and he still had business interests in Britain. I think that it is important to keep this in mind.

Mary Low died a year later in 1863, leaving behind several small children.

After the Civil War ended, Low took his children back to England.

William Low returned to Savannah to visit family when he was an adult. Through his Savannah cousins, he reconnected with the Gordon family of Savannah. He courted Juliette Gordon and married her.

The marriage didn’t go well. William Low died suddenly before the divorce was finalized. He left his entire inheritance to his British mistress. Juliette Gordon Low contested the will. Her settlement included the Andrew Low House in Savannah.

This is how Juliette Gordon Low ended up living in the Andrew Low House prior to her death.

Years ago, I read the Savannah Quartet Series by Eugenia Price. These four historical novels introduce real families such as the Stiles, Lows, and Gordons. However, the protagonist in these novels is actually a fictional cotton merchant named Mark Browning who moves from Philadelphia to Savannah a few decades before the Civil War. The fictional Browning falls deeply in love with Mary Cowper Stiles Low’s actual grandmother, Eliza Mackay. Then he marries his fictional wife Caroline. (Do you find this weird?) In all four of these books, the fictional Browning family socializes with real-life prominent Savannah figures. They also have whiny, emo discussions about the evils of slavery. In fact, the fictional Caroline Browning has a hysterical breakdown about the “dilemma” of owning people in front of Robert E. Lee at a fictional dinner party! (Again, do you find this weird?) These books confused me because fictional characters and storylines cross with real people and real events. However, they taught “teenage Jenny” that antebellum Georgia life was actually pretty horrendous and unjust. Also, Eugenia Price’s books led to my interest in the Andrew Low House. I found the Savannah Quartet Series by Eugenia Price because WalMart sold it.

I’ve never been to Savannah. However, if I ever travel there, I would like to visit the Andrew Low House.

Here is my blog post about Juliette Gordon Low’s own Chicago and Georgia families.

What places do you want to visit?

The “It” Girl was a Local Woman

In June 1906, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw shot and killed architect Stanford White on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden in New York City. In front of hundreds of witnesses.

Then Thaw shouted either “You ruined my life” or “You ruined my wife.”

White allegedly sexually exploited Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit, when she was 16 or 17 years old.

(Nesbit was born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, which is across the Allegheny River from New Kensington.)

The resulting trial became known in that day’s media as the “Trial of the Century.”

One of my favorite true crime podcasts, Criminal (hosted by Phoebe Judge), covered this last year in episode 91, The “It” Girl. Then, an episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder talked about this and heavily cited Criminal.

I’m not going to regurgitate the Criminal podcast episode here. You should probably go listen to Criminal now.

However, this murder and trial in New York City involved two natives of Western Pennsylvania.

Nesbit was born in 1884 or 1885. Her father died when she was 10 or 11. The family ended up dependent on family charity and whatever income her mother could scrape together as a dressmaker. They left Tarentum. They moved to Pittsburgh and then Philadelphia. They moved to New York City when Evelyn was 15 or 16.

Nesbit supported her family through work as a model, chorus girl, and actress. She was still a teenager. She met the famous architect White. White was several decades older and married. They allegedly ended up in a relationship.

After Nesbit’s relationship with Stanford White ended, Nesbit married Thaw.

After Thaw murdered White, White’s alleged sexual exploitation of Nesbit and other young girls came out in the press.

Hollywood made a film about Evelyn Nesbit in 1955 titled “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.” The title of the film comes from a red velvet swing that White allegedly had installed in a “secret room” where he brought young girls.

Again, go listen to the Criminal podcast or else look up Stanford White on Wikipedia.

Nesbit and Thaw eventually divorced.

I joined an Allegheny Cemetery tour last year in Pittsburgh. I saw Harry K. Thaw’s grave on this tour.

Okay, now here’s something that bothers me: I’ve seen mention of Thaw’s murder of White in several books, websites, pamphlets, etc, about Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. And in some of these places, I’ve read that Thaw shot White over a “love triangle” involving Thaw’s wife.

Now, if the allegations made against White are true, this wasn’t a love triangle!

White allegedly took Nesbit to a “secret room” that he had designed. He allegedly gave her drugs and / or alcohol. He allegedly took advantage of her while she was unconscious. He allegedly continued to exploit her. Then, he allegedly got bored with her and moved on to another young girl.

Keep in mind that Stanford White was a wealthy, highly respected New York City “thought leader.” Evelyn Nesbit was a teenager who HAD to work in order to feed her family.

Calling this a love triangle trivializes what really happened.

What stories from the past remind you of the “Me Too” movement?

5 Tips to “Weather” the Longwood Gardens Rain

In June 2015, I made my pregnant sister K. take me (and our sister E.R.) to visit Longwood Gardens during a torrential rainstorm.

Longwood Gardens is a botanical garden and conservatory in suburban Philadelphia. (It’s in Chester County, PA.) It originated from Pierre S. DuPont’s estate.

That day’s weather reports for that part of PA – the eastern part – called for several inches of rain. The National Weather Service nailed that forecast! It rained so much that on our trip back from Longwood to my sister’s house, we avoided the PA Turnpike.  In fact, we stopped at a Wawa on our trip back. We were the only customers in that Wawa. The Wawa clerk asked us why we were out traveling.

In my prior blog post, I mentioned that on my one visit to Longwood, I liked Longwood’s parking options much better than the parking options at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.

Longwood Gardens provides free on-site parking. On peak days, they also offer free off-site parking and provide transportation to their Visitors Center. My one visit to Longwood took place on a rainy day without many other visitors. So, we didn’t have to share the parking lot with many other cars.

So, here are my tips for visiting Longwood Gardens on a rainy summer day:

1.) You might see cats, and you might not see cats.

Multiple cats live at Longwood Gardens. During our visit, we read signs alerting us to the existence of the cats. The signs asked us to contact a staff member if we saw any of the cats hanging out in the parking lot. Here’s a link to the website information about Longwood’s Cats. Unfortunately, we did not see any cats during our visit.

2.) Wear a long, light raincoat and bring a golf umbrella. Resign yourself to getting wet.

Longwood Gardens includes over 1,077 acres of space to visit. We walked in the rain a lot that day, and we didn’t even see all of the outdoor gardens.

I stood in the rain and photographed the outside water lilies and water platters.

3.) Spend time indoors in the Conservatory.

The Conservatory is the name of the building that includes four acres of indoor gardens in multiple wings.

We still needed to have the umbrellas for our walk from the Visitors Center to the Conservatory.

4.) Explore your meal options ahead of time.

Longwood offers a full-service restaurant and a cafe. You can check its website for details about restaurant reservations.

However, we ate at a favorite fast-food restaurant in a local shopping center before we arrived at Longwood.

5.) Be prepared to walk a lot.

Longwood does NOT offer any shuttles around the gardens.

I need to mention that in addition to working cats, Longwood Gardens also has award-winning restrooms.

My sister K. sometimes blogs about restrooms at tourist attractions.

Check out my sister’s blog shout-out to Longwood’s restrooms.

What places do you like to visit in inclement weather? Can you name any tourist attractions that have working cats?

Taking Your Family to Phipps Conservatory

Several of my sisters and sisters-in-law have young kids. I wrote this blog post primarily for them and for families like theirs.

Jonathan and I subscribed to a membership at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh for the past several years. If you multiply the number of times that we visit Phipps each year by the admission price without a membership, you arrive at a figure higher than what we actually pay each year for our membership. So, we get our money’s worth for the membership fee.

That being said, here’s a few things to keep in mind when you take your family to visit Phipps:

1.) Schedule your event ahead of time, and be mindful of “peak times.”

This year, Phipps instituted mandatory timed ticketing for its Winter Flower Show.

Before you visit the Winter Flower Show, you MUST obtain timed tickets on Phipps’ website.

Keep in mind that one of the Winter Flower Show’s big attractions is the outdoor light show, so many visitors will want to be at the conservatory while it is dark outside.

Jonathan and I paid our very first visit using timed tickets last week. We obtained our tickets for 8:30 Thursday evening, two days after Christmas.

We found a parking space after searching for about half an hour.

We walked into Phipps’ lobby. An employee directed us to a line.

A patron behind us asked an employee for directions to the “separate line” for members. The employee replied that there was only one line.

I heard this patron get into line a bit behind me. Since the line bended several times, I heard this patron grumble that there was only one line. I heard the patron complain that she recently wrote a check for $1,000 to Phipps. She said that when she got home she was going to destroy the check.

We stood in line for 15 or 20 minutes, and then the employees admitted Jonathan and me to the Winter Flower Show.

I found the Winter Flower Show extremely busy. However, we did attend it two days after Christmas, during the evening light show.

Let me tell you about the one time – in 2014 – that we drove to Pittsburgh with our family with the intention of visiting Phipps and then didn’t even get out of our cars. Keep in mind that Phipps didn’t offer or require timed ticketing in 2014.

In 2014, we tried to visit Phipps’ on the day after Christmas.

We should have known better.

December 26 fell on a Friday. We had out-of-town relatives in New Kensington for the long weekend. We loaded those out-of-town relatives as well as the rest of the extended family into several cars. We attempted to take a total of 9 family to Phipps. We should have realized that everybody else in Greater Pittsburgh had the exact same idea.

Jon and I accept that the conservatory gets very busy at certain times of the year. People show up during the evening hours of Phipp’s Winter Flower Show just to see the outdoor light exhibit. Phipps’ even put the following warning on their website:

Holidays have long been a favorite time to visit Phipps. Many families hold special events at Phipps, and holiday celebrations offer a chance to relive memories. Plan ahead, as some holidays can be among our busiest visitor days.

However, we absolutely did not expect Phipps to be as crowded and busy as it was on the evening of December 26, 2014. When we got there at 7 p.m., valet-parked cars filled their entire front lawn. The line just to get into the main entrance stretched from the entrance to the street, about 50 feet away.  I wish that I had a photo of this. We never saw the place even remotely this busy before, even when we went there to see the Dale Chiluly glass show several years ago.

I should mention here that our group included a toddler who was going to be awake past his bedtime. Yeah, the night suddenly seemed less and less fun.

So . . . . .  we decided to punt on our plans to tour Phipps. We drove around various neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights instead.

This story ended well for me because Jon and I went back to Phipps two nights later. The Sunday after Christmas was much less crowded at Phipps than was the Friday after Christmas. I watched two random marriage proposals and heard a bunch of screaming and clapping from a third proposal.

2.) Be aware of the parking situation.

Phipps Conservatory sits squarely in Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Visitors can walk to Phipps Conservatory from the University of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Library, the Carnegie Museum, Carnegie Mellon University. As a result, even though Phipps has its own very small parking lot, many Phipps visitors have to compete for parking spots with several other institutions.

In my opinion, if you visit Phipps during a peak time, it’s usually a pain to park there. Heck, it’s often a pain to park at Phipps during non-peak hours if school is in session at Carnegie Mellon and Pitt.

Phipps offers valet parking for a $10 flat rate during selected shows on selected times and dates. I have never used the valet parking. However, the valet parking was not actually offered during many of my past Phipps visits.

Usually, Jonathan just drives around for 20 minutes or so until we see a space open up.

On more than one visit, we actually parked along Schenley Plaza and then we walked across the Schenley Bridge (over Panther Hollow) to the grounds of Phipps. Quite a walk, considering that we then had to walk through Phipps’ facility!

Schenley Bridge crosses over Panther Hollow. We sometimes park at Schenley Plaza and cross the Schenley Bridge to reach Phipps Conservatory.

I visited Longwood Gardens in Eastern PA once, and I liked the parking options there much better. (To be honest, my visit at Longwood Gardens also involved a lengthy walk.)

3.) Take note of the dates for exhibits that your family would enjoy.

Phipps’ exhibits include a Garden Railroad for specific shows. However, if you want to make sure that the Garden Railroad is open for your visit, check the website.

Here is a photo that I took of the Garden Railroad in 2013.

I, personally, enjoy time in the children’s garden in the warm months.

The Children’s Garden

What are your tips for visiting Phipps Conservatory with families?